Category: Pasta Dishes


[Winter Squash, Part 1]

And just like that, it’s fall.

winter squash

I’m loving the cooler weather, changing leaves, and most of all the availability of winter squash!  Last night’s successful spaghetti squash experiment marked the first new dish I’ve created since June, when I made a mayonnaise-free, vinegar-free potato salad that I will definitely share with you at some point.  Why the lack of cooking, you ask?  Well, a certain new addition to the family is due to arrive in late December, and as it turns out, he seems to hate most vegetables (particularly the green, nutritious ones!), and he has somehow scrambled my brain such that I have become terrible at figuring out which flavors go together.  (I maintain that peanut butter, jelly, and cottage cheese is a perfectly normal and delicious sandwich combination!)  But since squash is sweet (and isn’t green!), it seemed like a perfect way to start eating vegetables again in a way the baby would let me tolerate, and sage was the obvious herb to combine with it.

sage

There are different schools of thought about the optimal way to cook spaghetti squash–whole or halved, seeds in or out, microwave or oven, covered or uncovered, steamed or roasted with oil and herbs–in the end, since I wanted the “noodles” to be all the same consistency, and since the half hour baking time would give me just enough time to make the sauce, I went with halved, seeded, face down in a baking dish with a bit of water, covered tightly with aluminum foil so it would steam.

The sauce was really easy to throw together–essentially it’s a basic white sauce (roux + milk) combined with shallots, sage, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese.  For a richer sauce, you could definitely use half and half or cream, but if you don’t have them, milk works just fine.  Definitely be prepared to add more salt after you toss it with the squash “noodles” — they will dilute the flavor of your sauce more than you expect.

If you want to get a bit more elaborate than just squash + sauce, this dish would definitely be enhanced by the addition of some toasted hazelnuts or perhaps a bit of crispy pancetta–I was too hungry by the time I was done with the squash and sauce to bother, but if you have the time, you should definitely try it out.

spaghetti

So without further ado:

Spaghetti Squash with Sage and Nutmeg Cream Sauce
(Serves 2-3)

  • a small spaghetti squash (approx. 2.5lbs)
  • 3 tbsp butter, divided
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1.5 cups milk
  • a handful of fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt
  • pepper

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  While it’s heating, cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and put the halves face down in a baking dish.  Add enough water to go up the sides of the squash about 1/4 inch.  (It took me about a cup and a half of water for my 9×13 pan).  Cover tightly with aluminum foil, and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a sharp knife slides easily into the squash.

Meanwhile, melt a tablespoon of butter over medium heat, and saute the shallots until they soften and just start to get a bit of color.  Remove them from the pan and set aside.  Add the remaining two tablespoons of butter to the pan, and when it’s melted, add the flour, whisking constantly until you have a nice, even roux and it darkens a bit.  Then add the milk, and continue to whisk until the sauce starts to thicken.  Reduce the heat to low and add the shallots back to the pan, along with the sage, freshly grated nutmeg, and pepper.  Taste, and adjust the amounts of nutmeg and pepper accordingly.

Remove the sauce from the heat, stir in the Parmesan cheese, and then add salt to taste.  Cover, and keep warm, stirring occasionally to keep it from thickening too much; the longer it sits, the thicker it will become.  When the squash is ready, carefully remove it from the baking dish and use a fork to separate the flesh into “noodles”.  Put your squash noodles into a serving bowl and toss with the sauce until well-coated.  Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed.

Enjoy!

P.S. If you can, wash the sauce pan right away–we let it sit a bit too long, and so even after an overnight soak it was hard to get clean!

Saying that this dish did not turn out right the first time would be an understatement.  I’ve made plenty of dishes over the years that haven’t turned out quite like I had envisioned or that could use some tweaking here or there.  My first attempt at this one though?  Was nearly inedible.  My husband bravely finished his bowl and told me it wasn’t that bad, but really?  It was that bad.

So why am I sharing a recipe with you that I fully admit started off as inedible?  Because I ended up making it again the other night, with some MAJOR modifications and it turned out to be a pretty tasty dish!

The problem with the original version and thus the key to making the new version tasty?  Garlic.

When I pureed the pesto in the blender the first time around, I added in raw garlic (not a lot, I swear!) thinking that it would be a good punch of garlicky flavor (and be mellowed out by the cheese, broccoli, etc).  Well, this might have worked if it had been green garlic, or even early summer garlic.  But late winter garlic?  Not so much.  One of my friends coined the term “death garlic” and that pretty much sums it up.  It completely overpowered everything else in the dish and filled your tongue with a noxious, garlicky burning sensation.

The solution?  Roasting.

mmm...garlicky!

For the new version of this dish, I set half a head of garlic on a piece of aluminum foil, drizzled it with olive oil, sealed it up, and roasted it at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.  Problem solved!  The smell of roasted garlic is absolutely amazing, and it mellows out the flavor to the point where you almost want to just sit there eating it with a fork.  Plus roasting makes the cloves pop right out of the papery skins!

I made a few other changes to the original recipe as well.  This time I made the pesto in the food processor instead of the blender (it made drizzling in the olive oil much easier), I added Parmesan cheese to the pesto instead of the goat cheese I used in the original version (kept the pesto thinner), and because I had them, I sauteed some mushrooms and shallots and tossed them in with the broccoli.  The mushrooms turned out to make a big difference–they added a texture and savory depth that was missing from the first version of the dish.

Pesto at the end of the tunnel

 

mushrooms!

 

So much pesto...

One note on the type of pasta: I used whole wheat fusilli noodles (corkscrew shaped), which worked out really well because this is a rather thick pesto.  There are plenty of other shapes that would work too–I’d just recommend staying away from long and/or flat pastas like papardelle or fettuccini.  They won’t work nearly as well.

In the end, the new version of this dish was MUCH tastier than the original, still not very difficult to make, and something that’s definitely worth adding to your pasta and pesto repertoire.

Ready for eating!

Broccoli Pesto Pasta
(serves 2-3)

  • 1/2 head of garlic, outer layers of skin removed
  • 3 medium crowns of broccoli, long stems are a bonus
  • 1 cup of mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • olive oil
  • 112g whole wheat pasta
  • salt
  • pepper
  • lemon juice (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Remove the outer layers of papery skin from the head of garlic.  You only need half the cloves for this recipe, but feel free to roast the whole head of garlic if you have another use for it.  Set the garlic on a piece of aluminum foil and drizzle it thoroughly with olive oil.  Seal it up, put it on a cookie sheet, and roast for 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of well salted water to a boil.  When it’s boiling, dip the crowns of broccoli in, one at a time, for 30 seconds each.  (This is why the long stems are helpful–they give you something to hold on to.  If your broccoli doesn’t have a long stem, just drop it in and fish it out with a slotted spoon after 30 seconds).  As soon as you take the broccoli out of the boiling water, run it under cold water for a bit to stop the cooking.

Roughly chop two of the three crowns of broccoli and put them in the food processor.  Grate in about 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese (more or less as you desire), and add a few grinds of black pepper.  Take your garlic out of the oven, carefully open up the foil pack, and remove the cloves of garlic from their skins and add them to the food processor.  Pulse several times, scrape down the sides, and then let it run as you drizzle in olive oil.  You want enough olive oil to thin it out into a sauce-like consistency rather than a paste, but not so much that it tastes oily.  Stop and taste it periodically until you get the consistency you prefer.  Salt to taste.

Once the pesto is done, add the pasta to the pot of (still boiling!) water that you cooked the broccoli in.  While that’s cooking, heat a bit of olive oil in a medium sized skillet and add the shallots and mushrooms.  Cook for a few minutes until the mushrooms are nice and brown.  Chop the remaining broccoli into bite sized florets and add it to the skillet.  Drain the pasta, and then add both it and the pesto to the skillet and toss everything together.  Once everything is well coated in pesto, take it off the heat and serve garnished with a bit more freshly grated Parmesan and/or a squeeze of lemon juice.  Enjoy!

I’m still working on getting the rest of the Portland posts put together, but in the meantime, here’s a guest post from my mom who wanted to share her Orzo Caponata recipe with you all.  Enjoy!

*                                   *                                   *

I am always looking for recipes which incorporate fresh veggies from the garden or which are seasonally available at the market. Substitutions in a dish like this are easy, and if you don’t have some of the items in your pantry, just try substituting something similar. Any shape of pasta will work, and once the pasta is boiled (which can be done in advance) this is a one-pan-meal. I like to cut up all my veggies first, and lay out the pantry ingredients on a dinner plate so it is easy to add them into the pan in good order.

Easy Orzo Caponata

  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium white (or red) onion, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and rough-chopped
  • 1 small (or Chinese) eggplant, peeled and sliced into ¼” semi-circles
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 12 large black Kalamata olives, halved and pits removed
  • 2 tsp. wild capers
  • 2 tsp. fresh finely chopped basil
  • 2 tsp. fresh finely chopped curly parsley
  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced into thin wedges
  • 2 Tbsp. Red wine vinegar (or to taste)
  • Fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • Fresh grated Parmesan or other hard Italian cheese
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Option: toasted pine nuts

Boil a large pot of water, add salt and 2 – 3 cups of organic orzo pasta. Cook until just tender. I like to boil a big batch and use some for this dish and the rest for soup or a pasta salad the next day. Drain, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, stir and set aside.

Wash and prepare vegetables. I use organic and home-grown ingredients. If you use eggplant from a store, you may wish to salt the slices and let them sit to draw out any bitter liquid. Rinse and pat dry before using.

In large deep skillet, heat approximately 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Add onions and celery and sauté until translucent. Add more olive oil if needed, then add green pepper and eggplant. Saute over medium heat until vegetables are tender-crisp. Reduce heat slightly. Add raisins, olives, and capers. Stir a few times. Add herbs, black pepper and pine nuts (if you wish). Stir until all ingredients are hot. Add tomatoes and red wine vinegar to taste. Stir. Add 2 cups or desired amount of cooked orzo. Stir. Grate cheese in to taste. Stir and cook over low heat until cheese melts and flavors meld. Add sea salt to taste.

Serve warm. Can be eaten the next day over fresh greens as a salad.

After over a month-long cooking and blogging hiatus I am back and full of recipe ideas!  I also have a brand new camera, so you’ll finally be getting some higher-res pictures!  And maybe at some point I’ll work on my photography skills too…

Onwards to today’s post!

We hit up the farmer’s market on Saturday and got a whole bunch of delicious fall ingredients which will be turning up in my posts as the week goes on.  Acorn squash, turnips, leeks, serrano chilies, and some really fabulous looking oyster mushrooms, which are the subject of today’s recipe.

Cheesy mushroom and leek pasta

Never having cooked with oyster mushrooms before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect flavor-wise, so I decided to make a cheesy cream sauce with leeks and the mushrooms and serve it over pasta.  I started by sauteing (did I spell that right?  I never know…) the mushrooms and leeks in some butter with a bit of salt and pepper.  When the leeks started getting soft, I took the pan off the heat, dumped the leeks and mushrooms in a bowl, and then added another tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of flour to the same pan to start the base of the sauce.  (aka a roux.  I watch too many cooking shows.)  Once it was all melted and combined I added 3/4c of milk and started stirring to get all the lumps out.  Once it just started to bubble, I reduced the heat and simmered it, still stirring, until it thickened up.  Then I added the leeks and mushrooms back in, added some fresh mozzarella, some freshly grated parmesan, some more salt and pepper, and it was good to go!

mushrooms and leeks

sauce!

I have to say, it turned out well, but in retrospect oyster mushrooms were probably not the best choice for this dish.  Their flavor is so mild that they kind of get lost, even under the super mild flavors of leeks and cheese.  You’d probably be better off using mushrooms that are a big more…mushroom-y like criminis or even some bunapi shimeji.

But without further ado, the recipe:

Cheesy Pasta with Mushrooms and Leeks
(serves 2)

  • 2 handfuls of mushrooms; whatever kind you like best
  • 1 leek
  • 1.5 tbsp butter
  • 1tbsp flour
  • 3/4c milk
  • fresh mozzarella
  • freshly grated parmesan
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 110g pasta of your choice
Put a pot of salted water on to boil for your pasta.  Meanwhile, split the leek lengthwise and then wash it thoroughly to get all the grit out from between the layers.  Give your mushrooms a quick rinse too, and then dice them and the leek.  Heat up a medium pan on the stove and add 1/2 tbsp of butter.  When the pan is hot and the butter is melted, toss in the leeks and mushrooms, add a bit of salt and pepper, and saute over medium heat until the leeks just start to soften a bit.  Transfer the leeks and mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.
In the same pan you’ve been using, add the remaining tablespoon of butter along with the tablespoon of flour.  Stir over medium heat until the butter and flour are fully incorporated, and then add the milk.  Stir the mixture as you bring it to a boil to get all the lumps out.  Once it starts to bubble, reduce the heat and simmer it til it thickens, still stirring so it doesn’t burn on the bottom.
Once the sauce is thickened, add the leeks and mushrooms back in, along with some fresh mozzarella (as much or as little as you want.  Also, make sure the mozzarella isn’t *too* fresh–you want it to have some flavor to it.), some freshly grated parmesan, and more salt and pepper.  Stir together over low heat until the mozzarella is melted and then toss it together with your pasta, serve, and enjoy!

I’ve got such a backlog of posts for you, from some thoughts on Jamie Oliver’s Chicken Caesar Salad (it’s delicious!) to a quite tasty red pepper pasta dish I made up the other night, so let’s dive right in!

Part I: Jamie Oliver’s Chicken Caesar Salad

Let me start by saying that I don’t like Caesar salad.  But this was delicious!  The homemade croutons are easily the best part, but everything just works so well together, and the dressing is lemony and fresh as opposed to being heavy and gross like most salad dressings.  I did make a few changes (mostly out of necessity) when I made it though.  First, instead of using chicken legs or thighs, I had to use chicken breast because I couldn’t find any legs that weren’t attached to a whole chicken.  (And as the only carnivore in the house, I really have no use for a whole chicken).  But legs would definitely be better because they don’t dry out the way breasts are sometimes prone to.  I substituted prosciutto for the pancetta that the recipe calls for since I can’t for the life of me find a store that sells pancetta, but the prosciutto worked fine and added a nice salty flavor.  I also added asparagus (just tossed it in with the chicken and croutons when I added the prosciutto) and I think that you should all definitely add asparagus if you happen to be making this salad in the springtime!

Yum!

Part II: Red Pepper Pasta

This meal came out of one of those “I’m starving but I don’t want to go to the store and surely we have enough food around here to throw together a pasta dish” type of days.  And sure enough, we did have enough ingredients and this actually turned out to be one of my best experiments.

Ingredients

The inspiration was the jar of red and yellow peppers I found in my cupboard.  I don’t remember why I bought them in the first place–probably I had seen some recipe that I had wanted to try but subsequently forgot about–but they really turned out to be the star of the dish.  I also had a few stray mushrooms left over from the pea shoot recipe, half a red onion left over from something or another, two lonely cloves of garlic, and a bit of fresh rosemary left over from the chicken Caesar salad.

So of course, these ingredients say to me: stir fry!

Stir fry!

I put the mushrooms, onions, and rosemary in first, along with a dried chili pepper, since they take a little longer to cook.  Then I added the red peppers and garlic, salt and pepper, and finally stirred in the pasta:

Red Pepper Pasta

The roasted red peppers from the jar add a really nice sweetness to this dish, while the dried red chili adds just a hint of a kick.  Top it off with a little Parmesan cheese and you’ve got yourself a quick and easy meal!

Red Pepper Pasta
(serves 2) 

  • 1-2 roasted red peppers (from a jar, or you can roast them yourself), sliced into matchsticks
  • 3-4 crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 dried red chili pepper
  • leaves from 2 stalks of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • olive oil
  • 110g pasta of your choice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese

Start a pot of water boiling on the stove for the pasta.  Meanwhile, chop all of your ingredients except the red chili pepper.  Put a good splash of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the mushrooms, onion, chili pepper, and rosemary.  Stir or toss occasionally until the mushrooms start to brown.  Then add in the red peppers and garlic, taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.  Once the pasta is done, drain it and it to the skillet.  Once everything is mixed, taste again and adjust seasonings if necessary.  Serve topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

My fiance was having a guys’ night out the other night so I was left to fend for myself for dinner.  There was no food in the fridge, so I had to run to the grocery store to find something to make.  I wasn’t really in the mood to flip through cookbooks, so I decided to just let inspiration strike when I got there.  Looking around, the produce looked good, but there wasn’t really anything I wanted to eat until I saw the pea shoots.

I discovered pea shoots earlier this spring.  I was at a dinner at an Italian restaurant and my entree came with pea shoots garnishing it.  It was love at first taste.  They’re delicious!  So when I saw them at the store today, I knew I had to buy them.  From there it was just a matter of figuring out what to put with them.  I grabbed a few crimini mushrooms, a bag of frozen peas, and then I realized that since I was only cooking for myself, I could have meat!  (My fiance is vegetarian, and normally I’m perfectly content to eat vegetarian food, but lately I’ve been wanting to use some meat in my cooking.)  I looked around, and found organic spinach and feta chicken sausage.  It looked delicious and only had 120 calories!  Obviously I bought it.

This dish was really easy to put together.  Since the sausage was pre-cooked, all I had to do was heat it up.  I put the mushrooms and sausage into a dry, non-stick pan on “medium” heat (though who can say what that really means on an electric stove!) and tossed everything around until the sausage was sizzling nicely and the mushrooms were browned.

Meanwhile, I had water boiling on another burner and cooked a serving of brown rice pasta.  I used shells, but you can use whatever you have handy.  When the pasta was almost ready, I tossed in the frozen peas (which had been sitting on the counter and were thus not entirely frozen anymore) and then drained the whole mix.

I put the pasta and peas on a plate, cut the sausage and added it and the mushrooms, added salt, pepper, and a little freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and then topped it all off with a good handful of the pea shoots.  The flavor of the sausage kept this dish from needing too much other seasoning, but if you’re making a vegetarian version, play around with different spices, and also add a bit more cheese.

Pea Shoot Pasta
(one serving) 

  • 55g pasta of your choice
  • 1 chicken sausage
  • frozen peas
  • 3-4 crimini mushrooms
  • a handful of pea shoots
  • Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package instructions (the brown rice pasta I used takes longer to cook than other varieties).  Put frozen peas in a bowl on the counter to thaw.  Use as many or as few as you like.  Chop up the mushrooms, and then put them and the sausage in a dry non-stick pan on medium heat.  Rotate the sausage periodically to ensure even cooking, and stir the mushrooms frequently to avoid burning.
When the pasta is almost done, dump in the peas.  When the pasta is al dente, drain and put on a plate.  Cut up the sausage, and add it and the mushrooms to the plate.  Add salt and pepper, and toss everything together.  Top with a little grated Parmesan and the pea shoots.  Enjoy!

Sometimes my experimental recipes don’t go very well.  Or sometimes (like yesterday) they start off good but I quickly get sick of eating them.  Probably about 95% of the time I make one-dish meals (saves on dishes and I’m just cooking for me!), so it’s not good to get sick of what you’re eating halfway through!  But sometimes I invent something awesome that I totally want to eat again.  Tonight was one of those nights.

The initial inspiration for this recipe came from Jamie Oliver–I had bought the tagliatelli a couple weeks ago for making his pasta dish with parsnips and pancetta.  When I went grocery shopping this past week, I decided to pick up some fresh mushrooms and fresh herbs with the vague notion of making some sort of pasta dish.  I had also wanted pancetta, but alas there was none.  So tonight I was digging around in my fridge trying to figure out what else to put with the mushrooms, rosemary, and tagliatelli when it occurred to me to toss in some kale and goat cheese, figuring that I could thin the goat cheese with a little olive oil to make it like a sauce.

This turned out to work exactly as expected and was delicious!  That rarely happens without a recipe!

And thus without further ado:

Mushroom and Kale Tagliatelli

  • 2-3 handfuls of small porcini mushrooms (or whatever kind you like)
  • 2-3 stalks of fresh rosemary
  • 2 servings worth of tagliatelli or other long pasta
  • 3-4 large leaves of kale
  • half a package of goat cheese
  • olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • salt
  • pepper
  • Parmesan cheese (optional)
Put a pot of water on the stove to boil.  Meanwhile, wash the mushrooms, rosemary and kale.  De-stem the rosemary and kale, and then finely chop the rosemary and coarsely chop the kale.  Slice the mushrooms into 1/4 in. slices.  Peel and coarsely chop the garlic.  Salt the boiling water and add the pasta.
Add a good glug of olive oil to a hot skillet and toss in the mushrooms, rosemary, and some salt and pepper.  Stir frequently, and when the mushrooms are mostly cooked, add the kale and a little bit more olive oil if necessary.  When the kale turns bright green, turn off the heat and toss in the garlic.
Drain the pasta, reserving a small amount of the cooking water.  Dump the pasta, water, mushrooms and kale back into the pasta pan.  Add the goat cheese and a little olive oil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Stir vigorously until the goat cheese melts and forms almost a sauce.  Serve, and top with Parmesan cheese to taste.
[Note: I’ll post pictures later when I get them onto my computer]